ABOUT 30 MINUTES after his first NBA preseason sport in October, having missed the entire 2022-23 campaign with a foot damage, Chet Holmgren bounded out of the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s locker room and bumped into Victor Wembanyama‘s household.
When Wembanyama noticed Holmgren within the hallway, he smiled and turned to introduce Holmgren to his mom, Elodie, who was making her first go to to Oklahoma to see the sport. And what a present she and the remainder of the followers at Paycom Heart had taken in that night.
It was greater than an appetizer for the 2 fascinating rookies. Wembanyama, too energy-filled to make it by means of a deliberate afternoon nap, had been sensible for the San Antonio Spurs in his first NBA preseason sport, registering 20 factors, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Holmgren was simply as spectacular (21 factors, 9 rebounds and a block), as the 2 had a number of moments of managed however unmistakable one-upmanship.
Holmgren and Wembanyama have been circling one another for years. Wembanyama is 7-foot-4; Holmgren isn’t any slouch himself at 7-1. Each have slender frames and exhibit guard abilities and uncommon athleticism for his or her measurement. They’d been on scouts’ radars and, due to this fact, one another’s since they have been of their mid-teens.
“I do not search for actually to many individuals,” Holmgren stated. “However that is one among them.”
They watched the opposite’s highlights, monitored their varied rankings and tracked their progress from throughout the ocean. They share one thing else moreover a uncommon mix of measurement and talent: a fierce aggressive streak that’s as a lot part of their personalities as their top.
To know these two younger stars on any degree is to grasp the stage is about for what could possibly be an intense rivalry between them within the coming years. Whereas they have been cautious to stay principally respectful of one another in media settings, watching their actions the few occasions they’ve shared the ground forecasts a coming depth once they compete towards one another.
Their first NBA matchup that counts comes Tuesday again in Oklahoma Metropolis — and with further stakes: an in-season tournament game the Thunder must win to take care of their hopes of advancing out of group play.
Wembanyama, 19, has made it recognized he has long-standing targets of changing into the NBA’s greatest massive man, and Holmgren, 21, is immediately in his path, as they’re slated to compete at each degree, beginning with the Rookie of the Yr Award.
Holmgren’s coaches and teammates, previous and current, describe a relentless drive to win. He would possibly see Wembanyama as simply one other opponent to attempt to conquer on this regard, however Holmgren cannot deny that the 2 are going to be judged closely in the way in which they carry out head-to-head, like many different rivals by means of NBA historical past.
“There isn’t a alternative however for us to commute,” Holmgren stated.
Flashback: Wemby and Chet go at it of their preseason debuts
Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren commerce buckets as they make their preseason debuts for the Spurs and Thunder, respectively.
AS HOLMGREN MET Mrs. Wembanyama, he collegially introduced up the one earlier time they certainly had all been collectively in the identical place. It was in Riga, Latvia, in July 2021 on the U19 FIBA World Cup last. Team USA had beaten Team France 83-81 in a hotly contested sport throughout which Wembanyama had frustratingly fouled out within the fourth quarter.
It is just the worst basketball reminiscence of Wembanyama’s life — “Simply excited about it makes my jaw clench,” he has stated — and one of many nice accomplishments of Holmgren’s. Although he did not play exceptionally by his requirements within the championship sport — Holmgren had 10 factors and 5 assists — the American participant was named the tournament’s MVP and returned for his freshman yr at Gonzaga with a gold medal. Wembanyama had put up 22 factors with eight rebounds and eight blocks earlier than having to observe the ultimate minutes from the bench.
The concept that that sport may’ve been the start of years of the 2 uber-talented giants enjoying for large stakes in contests dripping with depth is an thrilling prospect for your complete NBA machine. For many who have been there, it was unforgettable.
“I bear in mind,” Elodie Wembanyama stated to Holmgren with a smile.
As for seeing one another in even primary social settings resembling this, it has hardly ever occurred. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a slate of worldwide occasions that may’ve introduced them collectively by way of shoe firms or governing our bodies was canceled. Being a yr aside in draft lessons, they weren’t a part of these festivities, both. So you find yourself with two doable future cornerstones of the NBA hardly ever seeing one another.
“No,” Wembanyama stated emotionlessly when requested if that they had any relationship.
Maybe one will start now. Their collision course as they compete for 2 groups on the rise within the Western Convention appears inevitable. They are going to begin to see every no less than 4 occasions a season, and they’re primed to finally face off in playoff sequence and rematches in worldwide competitors.
Group USA is more likely to contemplate Holmgren within the close to future with the senior workforce, as he starred as a junior member. Wembanyama is slated to headline American rival France for years to return, having declared to French reporters that he desires “France to be the most important basketball nation on the earth and for a very long time. I would like individuals to see us that means, [to] transfer previous USA.”
Within the quick time period, the Spurs, who’re struggling defensively regardless of Wembanyama already making an affect by averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per sport, are enjoying catch-up to the Thunder, who’re a few years forward of their rebuild. However the two groups, each armed with younger expertise and additional draft picks, maintain promise of postseason showdowns.
“The video games towards OKC are going to be fascinating,” Wembanyama stated. “For positive.”
AFTER SAYING GOODBYE to the Wembanyamas, Holmgren was off to the car parking zone to move house. No exhausting emotions. Possibly only a trace of needling. After which there was the tweet.
A couple of minutes after departing, Holmgren dashed off a submit on X after seeing “SportsCenter” have fun a spotlight from the sport. Following an aggressive drive towards Holmgren, Wembanyama drew an and-1 and flexed.
The headbutt is an unstoppable transfer fasho😂😂🤝 https://t.co/Oaz7Mz8f57
— chet holmgren (@ChetHolmgren) October 10, 2023
“The headbutt is an unstoppable transfer fasho,” Holmgren wrote, insinuating that Wembanyama would possibly’ve gotten away with an offensive foul.
Gregg Popovich supplied his impressions after watching the primary NBA assembly.
“They went at one another a few occasions, and it was fascinating,” the Spurs coach stated. “It exhibits their character, their competitiveness, and so they did it inside motive. Neither one was taking pictures a horrible shot to attempt to outdo the opposite one. It was primary basketball that the basketball gods would agree with. They are going to be a number of enjoyable for everyone to observe over their careers.”
Wembanyama performs extra at ahead than heart, which is the place Holmgren has spent more often than not for the Thunder. There may be restricted head-to-head moments such because the one which delivered that contested spotlight between them within the preseason. However the hyperlink is simple, and the time to start out making reminiscences might have arrived.
“I plan to play a very long time, and I am positive he does too,” Holmgren stated. “So I am excited for the longer term down the highway, as effectively.”